Michigan Guardsmen Honored for Duty at Iraqi Prison

By: Tony Tagliavia
By: Tony Tagliavia

They are the Michigan National Guard soldiers sent in to fix Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison connected to charges of torture.

"It was tough. It was dangerous. But we didn't let anything happen while we were there," guard commander Capt. Jim Allen said.

"They performed with honor. They performed their duty perfectly. You shouldn't see any disgrace, or some photos coming out that they did something wrong," Sgt. Maj. Jody Arrington, who was the top enlisted man on the mission, said.

They were honored for performing their duty. Honored with a flag, a commemorative coin, an insignia for their uniforms, and a lapel pin or a medallion for loved ones.

The soldiers are seeing their loved ones, wives, girlfriends, parents, children, regularly now. It's a routine they've been re-acquainting themselves with since arriving home in December. Adjusting to civilian life and civilian work.

Specialist Steve Laurence is a concrete contractor.

"I went right back to it," he said.

Laurence says at first, he was tripped up by some of the more mundane realities of civilian life, like bills. He says things are close to normal again.

Allen, the man in charge of the Michigan soldiers at Abu Ghraib, says some of his soldiers do go through some tough spots.

"Strange, pitch noices once in a while. (It) makes them edgy," Allen said.

Still, he says re-adjusting is a easier than it was years ago.

"They teach us quite a bit about how to come home, how to re-integrate into society," Allen said.

But these soldiers are coming home from a prison connected to images of torture from years past and present.

"Saddam murdered a lot of people there ... there were a lot of deaths," Arrington said.

The prison is now slated to be closed.

"That's great for the future soldiers ... I think they're lucky that they don't have to go to Abu Ghraib prison," Laurence said.

But Laurence and his fellow soldiers are lucky, in a way, too. No one from the 1st Battalion, 119th Field Artillery was killed in Iraq.

"(We're) blessed that no one was killed," Allen said.

"I was just happy. That was my mission," Arrington said.

Thirteen soldiers from the battalion are still serving in iraq.

Some of the soldiers came under attack while serving with other units. One has been flown to Ft. Sam Houston, Texas for medical treatment.

Some from the batallion visited the man, Sgt. Tray Dreske, this week.

They say he's fighting for his life.

-- in Lansing, Tony Tagliavia, News 10.


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